At the Grange last evening Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth left us all a bit breathless with her connecting of the dots of energy and economics with a short side trip to Fukishima and the disaster that is affecting Japan. Energy drives economics and we are running perilously short of cheap energy. This will move our economic situation toward collapse as the bubbles of housing and commodities and the heavy weight of debt take money out of the system and cause it to seize up.
Trying to put all this information (a 90 minute talk followed by another 90 minutes of Q and A) is almost more than even a well-informed human can process. For virtually all of us the Great Depression is of the history books. We’ve heard the stories but with the prosperity of the last seventy years, prosperity lubricated with cheap energy, the tales Great Depression made little impact. It’s hard for us to conceive of wide-spread shortages, lack of purchasing power, massive unemployment, systemic bank failures and dried up credit. For me and even more so for the following generations our attitude was more in line with Mastercard’s “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
What we are facing is similar to Colony Collapse Disorder, the affliction that faces the honey bee. Last week three of us new beekeepers on the island got a demonstration of how quickly bad things can happen. That is, how quickly bad things seem to happen because there is often a slow prelude to a crisis but then we reach a tipping point and we see collapse.
On May 26 I did my first close inspection of the hive lifting up the top bars to check the comb and see what was going on. Everything looked good. Lots of nice comb. Tons of bees.
The next day was cold and rainy. Bad bee weather. I noted there wasn’t much, if any flying. Then following day there was no flying at all and when we opened the hive to look we found a huge pile of dead bees, perhaps more than half the population of the hive.
The remaining bees were lethargic and inactive. Now here’s the amazing thing: we quickly checked the other two hives which are a mile and a half and two miles away and discovered half the bees in those hives were dead as well. Collapsed on the same day. All of us are grossly inexpert but we decided to start feeding the bees again (we had been feeding earlier but they had quit taking the feed during the big leaf maple nectar flow). Clearly they were starving.
Now the hives are on life support. We wonder if we have a critical mass of bees who are able to get the job done. We hope that we have the right demographic as the bee’s life cycle is short and a hive needs a mixture of age groups to function properly.
The bees are flying again and seem busy in the hive. But life will not be as easy for them with their resources so depleted. They are also kind of angry and very aggressive when we open the hive each evening to change the sugar water. Who can blame them? Collapse is upsetting.
The experience with the bees helps me to process the information that Nicole dropped on us. It wasn’t exactly news to me as I’ve been reading her site and others like it for the last many years. She is instrumental in the decisions we’ve made during that time period: moving to Lummi Island to hive with a strong community, getting out of debt, starting a garden, storing some food, collecting rainwater, relearning old skills, accumulating tools and other necessities and trying to convince others to do the same.
There was a nice sized group assembled to hear Ms Foss. Perhaps eighty people. I will estimate that thirty of them were over from Bellingham. Transition Whatcom folks. It would have been helpful if there had been thirty more from the island to hear this message because I suspect, for the most part, that Nicole was preaching to the choir. However, we need a well-informed choir to provide some leadership as we get nearer to collapse.